Published by FRCC (2014)
A review of the latest Langdale guidebook by Keith Sharples
My introduction to Langdale, as a (very) young pup, was at Scout Crag; barely a pint-glass throw from the New Dungeon Gill pub although that, as they say, is another story. At that time (the early 70s) Scout crag was inconsequential when compared to the ‘real’ crags of say Gimmer, Pavey, Raven Crag and White Ghyll although it was a great little spot for beginners. Interestingly Scout Crags – like many of the smaller crags dotted about Langdale – came under the spotlight during the 80s and early 90s when first Tom Walkington and then Dave Birkett and Nick Dixon put up some short but respectably serious testpieces rocketing the grades up to E6/7. This ‘little crag made it big’ story is not an uncommon in the valley. Certainly Langdale now has some of the top routes which are as good and as hard (and as serious) as anywhere in the Lakes and this with stunning scenery is nothing if not an intoxicating cocktail for many.
So to the detail, firstly then, the latest FRCC guide to Langdale is the ninth edition and it’s been carefully crafted by the publications team to suit the needs of today’s climbers. Those familiar with the FRCC guides of the past will be in for quite a change so let’s take a look under the hood of the new guide. Starting with an overview of the guide and the design/layout which follows a similar style to the popular 2003 selected guide, Lake District Rock. The simple, no-nonsense, one-column layout now includes the full route description as well as first ascent details. Photo-topos accompany the text exclusively throughout as well as Harveys-based maps showing crag locations and access points etc. Action pics are embedded throughout the guide too. Unlike many guides the intro section is remarkably scant – clearly the publications team wanted to get down to business as soon as possible. However, lovers of the much cherished ‘other info’ such as the environmental notes will be pleased to hear that these have also been included, albeit in the rear of the guide, where they appear alongside the other old favourites such as the historical section and no less than two indices – a route grade by crag as well as a general index. Avid readers will also spot helpful hints in the guide on where to stay as well as how to take better pictures as well as the details for the areas climbing walls and ‘useful contacts’.
The design/layout works well giving the guide a clear and-easy to-read appearance. As the route descriptions now include the first ascent details there’s no longer the frustrating need to flick to the back of the guide and scan the first ascent list to check out the details. The photo-topos are likewise embedded within the text whereas they too were formerly included at the rear of the guide. Lovers of fine art may well decry the passing of the beautiful line drawings which were previously used for the crag diagrams but given that they themselves replaced the original W Heaton Cooper drawings it’s clear that the FRCC have got their modernising hat firmly on their heads and with the peak pointing to the front. Whilst on the subject of the photo-topos, author Max Biden, who is credited with the bulk of the crag photos, should be heartily congratulated for what has obviously been (yet another) humongous effort in taking such a compellingly excellent set of crag shots most of which have been photographed with excellent light. The majority of the photo-topos are orientated in a portrait manner in the guide although some – such as those for some of the more developed areas on Gimmer and White Ghyll – have been included landscape, in some cases over two pages to get a ‘best fit’. The only down side is that the reader has to spin the guide through 90 degrees for these pages – small beer really though in the scheme of things.
There are plenty of action pics included in the guide too and these range in size from double page spreads to quarter page. These are well-distributed throughout the guide and nicely embellish the text and whilst there’s a few absolute crackers there’s a few that err… aren’t really up to the job and perhaps might have been better left out albeit that would have robbed the guide of photo coverage at certain crags. I should say though that the reproduction of the action pics and the photo-topos is excellent throughout.
There are two final points that are worth making. Firstly that the FRCC have switched away from the traditional plastic covers adopting a paperback format with ‘French flaps’ for the first time. A further interesting development, and one which isn’t immediately obvious unless, of course, you know the area like the back of your hand, is that some of the more obscure/vegetated climbs/crags have been omitted from the guide altogether and consigned to the FRCC archive. The FRCC publications team recognise that this is a controversial move but they argue that the guide would have run to two volumes had they not taken this action. This is further evidence that the team are on the ball and determined to take tough decisions to enable the club to continue to publish guides to the Lakes. I think they should be applauded for producing a great guide to Langdale, a wonderful valley that for many has some of the best climbing and scenery in the Lakes.